Orioles looking for a lefty, but don't expect them to join high-priced reliever trend

SAN DIEGO — Teams are spending big money on relievers -- most recently the four-year, $46 million deal David Robertson received from the Chicago White Sox on Monday night -- but given the Orioles' model, don't expect them to sink significant payroll into the bullpen.

First of all, the Orioles have bigger holes to fill right now. They ideally would like to add one hitter from each side of the plate to fill holes in the outfield and at designated hitter. They need production to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.


Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he is looking for bullpen help here at the winter meetings, and he definitely needs a left-hander to replace Andrew Miller. But instead of spending big money on a reliever, expect the Orioles to go after value.

They are more likely to court pitchers like Craig Breslow and Neal Cotts, lefties who struggled last season but have built a previous track record of success.

The Orioles knew it was going to take a lot to retain Miller, and they were never really engaged in serious discussions with him. They knew they weren't willing to spend the $9 million annually that he will receive over the next four years from the New York Yankees.


Keep in mind that this time last year, the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson in part because he was projected to make $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility.

Instead of paying high prices for relievers, the Orioles depend on under-control pieces -- like closer Zach Britton and right-hander Tommy Hunter -- and team-friendly contracts, like right-hander Darren O'Day's two-year, $5.8 million deal that included a $4.25 million option for 2015.

The key is having flexibility and depth. When Hunter struggled in the closer's role early in the 2014 season, the Orioles turned to Britton. But they set the foundation for Britton to become a late-inning reliever back in spring training, including a lot of work on his approach from the stretch.

Bullpens also have a level of fluidity. Roles change. Players get raises through arbitration.

While Duquette said Monday that he doesn't see much progress on the trade front, it's no secret that the Orioles would be willing to listen to offers for left-handed reliever Brian Matusz.

The Orioles don't necessarily want to move Matusz, who was 2-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 2014. Matusz held left-handers to a .223 batting average and posted a 1.42 ERA in the second half of the season.

But the Orioles feel that Matusz, who made $2.4 million last season and has one more year of arbitration eligibility after the 2015 season, could bring extra value from a team that sees him as a potential starter projected to make less than $3 million this season.